I wondered about it long after. I remembered it years later, a portion of a day, a snippet of the night.
It was September, late summer, time for Teresa’s annual pool party for her birthday. I’d been attending Teresa’s birthday parties since we were in first grade and now we were in high school. I don’t know how many of us had been there – at least a couple dozen kids shouting and laughing, eating, jumping into and out of the pool, throwing towels, playing the music too loud for Teresa’s father, who occasionally grumped through the backyard smoking a cigar.
Some of the boys liked to dump girls into the pool, whether we’d changed into our bathing suits or not. I’d been one of them, soaked to the skin in my jeans. “It’s okay,” Teresa said when I climbed out, dripping. “My mom will dry your clothes for you,” and then I changed into a swimsuit and rubbed the water from my hair.
When the sun threatened to go down, we girls crammed ourselves into Teresa’s room, sharing hair dryers and curling irons, coating our eyes with thick mascara and blue eyeliner. “Got your jeans done,” Teresa said, tossing them at me. “But your shirt is still out on the deck.”
I borrowed an extra top from Brenda. I didn’t know Brenda, but she was the sister of a boy from another school Teresa had dated once before, and she seemed okay. She’d brought several outfits with her, deciding what to wear at the last minute.
She gave me a cropped black top with a tropical print and a collar that stayed up when I flipped it. I wiggled my legs into the fresh-from-the-dryer jeans and leaned flat up against the wall to zip them.
“God, you’re tiny,” Brenda said. I couldn’t decide if she thought that was good or bad. “Those jeans might fit on one of my legs.”
We piled into cars, squeezing as many as would fit into too small a space, girls on boys’ laps, and raced off in a caravan to continue the birthday party at the roller rink.
Multi-colored pulsing lights blinked on and off over the skaters. A shallow light illuminated the skate counter, where those of us not fortunate enough to have our own skates had to rent a pair for seventy-five cents. Everywhere else was dark, crowded. The air was thick with humidity, sweat, cologne, cigarettes. I deliberately walked past the skate counter toward the snack bar and slid into a booth right next to the rink. I idly watched the skaters, the walkers, the sitters, the bodies pressed against the wall and behind the empty coat racks.
“Hey!” Two other girls from the party threw themselves into the booth, both slurping from paper soda cups and crunching crushed ice. One was Brenda. The other was a girl from her school, a stranger to me.
“Hey,” I said.
“You’re not skating.”
“No. You’re not either.”
They giggled. “Rather look at guys,” Brenda’s friend said, demonstrating by craning her neck over the crowds. Suddenly she looked straight at me. She slurped the last of the crushed ice from her cup and carelessly tossed it aside. Eyes still on my face, she pulled a stick of gum from her purse and popped it into her mouth.
“I could read your fortune,” she offered. The gum cracked and snapped on each syllable. Her gaze made me uncomfortable, as if she could see through me into something I didn’t understand.
“Stacy reads palms,” said Brenda. “And tarot cards.”
“Come on. Want me to?” Stacy asked.
“I guess so, but -” Before I could finish, she had grabbed my right hand, turned it face up on the table. She traced the lines with her fingers. I wondered silently if I should have offered my dominant hand, the left one.
“You’ll have lots of romance,” she began, and Brenda giggled. Stacy glared.
“Lots of romance,” she said again, her finger on my palm. “But you won’t find love until late in life.”
“Late in life?” I asked. “What does that mean?”
“I can’t say for sure. It might mean you’ll find the love of your life when you’re twenty-one and die when you’re twenty-two.”
I shuddered, started to pull my hand away. She pulled it back.
“Don’t worry. It might mean you won’t find love until you’re fifty.” The way she said it, gum snapping and cracking, careless of my feelings, left me feeling vaguely exposed.
“You’ll have one child when you are very young.”
“So I won’t have love until late in life, but I’ll have a baby when I’m young?”
“I said you’d have romances. Let me finish.” She searched my hand again. “One child when you are very young. Maybe before you get out of high school. How old are you now?”
“You won’t get married first.”
I pulled my hand away. “I’ll either fall in love when I’m too old to enjoy it or die when I’m twenty-two. And I’ll have a baby but not be married. Don’t you see anything good?”
“Anything can be good if you let it.” Her curious stare fixed me again, and I looked away, unwilling to see what was reflected in her strange eyes.
Stacey stood abruptly and walked away from the table, leaving Brenda behind.
“She read me too,” Brenda remarked. “She said I have a strong lifeline and a very strong loveline.” She glanced around her at the sea of people moving in and out, and I felt the floor beneath my feet throb as the music got louder.
“If I have such a strong loveline,” Brenda continued, chewing on the end of the straw in her soda cup, “I wish some guy would come along now and prove it.”
“I don’t think I like what she told me.”
“Forget it. I don’t know if she knows what she’s talking about anyway.”
“I’m left-handed. If she read my left hand, would it have been any different?”
Brenda looked at me strangely. “How would I know? Don’t let it get to you.”
She stood suddenly and disappeared into the throng and the darkness, the haze of smoke and sweat obscuring her from view almost instantly. I held my breath for a long moment, and in that moment the world slowed and stopped, the pulsing lights, the music, the crowd; all I heard was the thump of my own heartbeat and the blood in my head.
When I breathed again, the world began to move again, faster and louder than before. More bodies flung themselves into my booth. I heard shouts and laughter cross the room, was offered a soda, half a hot dog, some hot tamales.
I didn’t see Brenda or her friend again. Some weeks later I returned the borrowed tropical-print shirt to Teresa, carefully washed and ironed, and she promised to see that Brenda would get it. I continued to go to Teresa’s parties until the year we turned twenty, and then there weren’t any more.
My hands don’t seem much different to me now than they did nearly thirty years ago, but in all those years, I’ve never again let anyone read them.